PHC places 1st at international debate competition

Posted by Hannah Gaschler on 7/5/24 12:02 PM

Patrick Henry College wins Transatlantic Dialogues in Paris, France

Debaters Hannah Bruck, Eden Mackie (EBA; Journalism, '24), and Josiah Todd WON the Transatlantic Dialogues debate competition in Paris on June 24. “Their performance in the final round was the best I had seen them perform over the course of the year to date,” debate coach Ryan McDonald (APP, '16) said. This was the first time that the debate program has traveled internationally for an event of this caliber in about a decade, and PHC won by beating the U.S. Air Force Academy in the final round. 

McDonald, Bruck, Mackie, ToddMackie, Bruck, and Todd spent most of June preparing for this tournament, holding scrimmages in front of PHC staff including Strategic Intelligence professor John Bauer, Dr. Gordon Middleton, Executive Vice President Howard Schmidt, PHC forensics director Sue Johnson, and debate coaches James and Tyler Dunning. “By the time we got there, they had been so accustomed to receiving different questions from different persons in different spheres of influence that really nothing could rattle them,” McDonald said. 

Read about PHC's forensics coachesThis competition, hosted by the French military academy Ecole de Guerre, consisted of three tournaments about recruitment issues. The first, held in February at Loyola Marymount University, focused on defining emergent threats for Western liberal democracies. The second, held in April at George Washington University, questioned the role that DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) should play in Western liberal democratic militaries. French officers visited the U.S. to judge both.

Paris team sitting.croppedSix teams competed in the third and final tournament, which centered on specific recruitment policies. “It was a forum for more tangible policy proposals with ardent research backing, and our team did an exceptional job on that front,” McDonald said. They modeled their proposal after a successful U.S. Army pilot program, and their research included financial estimates and impacts on allied nations. “PHC students are exceptionally situated to conduct really deep and effective research,” McDonald said. “Part of why we won is that we had an answer to every question.” 
Learn more about PHC forensics

The Transatlantic Dialogues debate format differs from other kinds of debate in that the judges get to ask questions after hearing the policy proposal, cross-examination, and rebuttal. “I love forms of debate that allow judges to engage with the students,” McDonald said. “You have a real chance to hear from them and respond to their concerns.” 

Paris debate prepThe PHC students also built a close relationship with a French officer who mentored them and explained many of the philosophical and strategic underpinnings of the French military. “Rather than sticking to their own preconceived notions about what policies they might want to put forward, they understood that good advocacy requires an understanding of the audience,” McDonald said. 

They also built relationships with several of the other French officers. “I know that they were just beaming with excitement to see a team they had grown to respect and appreciate win the tournament,” McDonald said. 

McDonald quote

Paris team.croppedThe Transatlantic Dialogues debates include mentorship and guidance because the focus is on educational merit. “Even if we had not won, these students would have had the testimony that they got to go to France and talk recruitment policies with people who quite literally run recruitment in the French military,” McDonald said. The nature of having three tournaments made it a months-long mentorship journey. 

Still, the team was electric when they learned that they had won. “I was almost moved to tears,” McDonald said. “To watch them now as mature debaters having gone through this program for three or four years, and to watch them clinch an international victory, it was so rewarding. There’s nothing quite like watching someone grow into victory like that.”
Civic debate at PHCThe win represents the long-term success of the debate program. “They have poured such tremendous effort and time into debate, not just for the tournament,” McDonald said. “It’s the fruit of years and years of preparatory work. This team succeeded in showcasing international brilliance due to a long-term commitment to the program, and I think that pays off.” 

Learn about PHC's stellar debate program


 Patrick Henry College exists to glorify God by challenging the status quo in higher education, lifting high both faith and reason within a rigorous academic environment; thereby preserving for posterity the ideals behind the "noble experiment in ordered liberty" that is the foundation of America.


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